Review: X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN #1

X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN #1
Written by Ed Piskor
Art by Ed Piskor

Edited by Chris Robinson and Mark Paniccia
Published by Marvel Comics
Release Date: December 20, 2017

“It is necessary,” Uatu the Watcher says, “for events to unfold and settle before transcribing what I witness. There are many mechanisms at play with these particular subjects. Much I needed to digest and make sense of.”

This serves as a fitting introduction to X-Men: Grand Design, in which Ed Piskor has taken on the monumental task of retelling about 280 issues of Uncanny X-Men in 240 pages (to be released in three two-issue arcs over a period of about two to three years). The X-Men comics are notorious for their complicated continuity that makes the series a challenge for new readers, even for fans who are already interested.

Adding to this difficulty is the fact that the series’ classic best-loved era spans decades. X-Men is simultaneously the story that made me interested in comics as a teenager and the reason I gave up on comics before returning to them about a decade later, finally possessing the background knowledge to tackle the lengthy reading project. For this reason, I anticipated with great interest the release of this issue and series.

Grand Design is narrated by Uatu the Watcher to a Recorder, indicating right away that the story is epic in scope and important in theme. In just this first issue, the story spans an lengthy stretch of time, from the origins of mutants centuries ago and an iconic story from the early days of Marvel/Timely comics, through Charles Xavier’s early life, and finally to the backstories of the original X-Men and the formation of the original Silver Age team.

All of this is packed in a mere 40 pages, with a reading list at the back serving as a references page to let the reader know which comic book issue introduced each character or story point. It’s apparent that a great amount of research went into this comic. The artwork and writing in conjunction are incredibly effective at conveying a great deal of information, with each panel playing a big role in the story. There are panels that are recognizable as direct references to specific moments in X-Men history, from individual character details to larger themes that have been explored through the decades.

Of course, the concept necessitates that certain choices be made about what to include and how to resolve certain contradictions that have been introduced into the original text over the years. There’s an interesting conversation to be had on the different impression this series might make on different readers, depending on how many and which of the X-Men comics they’ve read. Personally, I went into this issue with equal parts excitement and trepidation and am happy to report that I’ve come away incredibly impressed.

This book was clearly put together with care about format and presentation. The paper stock and yellowed pages make the issue look like an old book a reader might find in ancient archives, when looking for stories about a mythology of which they’ve head bits and pieces.

It’s a beautiful book, and I expect many readers will want to pick up the single issues as they are released. It should be noted that the e-book version looks brighter and might be easier to read for some readers, especially given the option to focus on individual panels. I anticipate that the pages will also look beautiful in the over-sided trade paperbacks that are scheduled for release.

While reading this issue, I was especially glad that Grand Design reads like an actual story; certainly, it’s an incredibly dense read, but it really does feel like retelling, rather than an illustrated summary. Marvel has recently placed a great deal of focus on the history and legacy of its characters; the company’s recent publications have included a Generations limited series; a relaunch of its superhero titles under the Legacy banner; and Primer Pages included with the Legacy relaunch to introduce characters to new readers. The results of these efforts have been mixed, and this book stands out as one of the best.

Grand Design is what a retelling can look like when done incredibly well, with the history of these famous characters retold in a way that appreciates the originals and acknowledges how the passage of time has made these stories into a mythology that warrants the creation of this type of book in the first place. X-Men: Grand Design is on my pull list, and I recommend that fellow X-Men fans add it to theirs.

The Verdict: 9.5/10

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